Looking at the Light through John - Chapter 1

Who is this Jesus

The prince of darkness works assiduously to block the light. His is the black domain, and he can only keep his charges under control by keeping them from having contact with light or by setting up a system of smoke and mirrors so that the captive has a confused perception about the light. Thus it was, when the apostle John wrote his gospel account, Satan was already working to darken the understanding about Jesus; he could not stop the penetrating advance of the message of the Lord, but he could try to wrap His revelation with the cloak of confusion. The Holy Spirit, speaking through His apostle, was going to exalt Jesus to His proper place, worthy of the obeisance and obedience of the entire world.

Like a flash of sunlight Jesus came into a darkened world. His credentials are unparalleled, even hard to magnify to their proper proportion in the minds of men. How can anyone grasp that the great Jehovah would put Himself inside the confines of a human shell? How can anyone comprehend that the Creator would take the form of a diminutive part of the whole creation? When He indicates, therefore, that He came to communicate spiritual life, mankind should first listen in rapt silence, and then rush to obey whatever is commanded.

 

 

The True Light

Darkness is equivalent to confusion. It is consistent, therefore, to find that the god "of confusion" is the ruler of the "domain of darkness" (I Corinthians 14:33; Colossians 1:13). Jesus, as the Light of the world and Word of God, came to bring enlightenment to a darkened humanity, to clear away the fog of Satanic confusion.

Jesus, however, brought enlightenment in a way which mankind could have never designed nor would have ever anticipated. Rather than setting Himself up as a professor in an existing institution, channeling His way upward through the bowels of reputation-dom, He burst like a thunderbolt on earth’s scene. In a brief three and one-half year flash — from the time of His immersion to the time of His crucifixion - He healed the sick, raised the dead, and taught His parables. Following His resurrection to the heavenly throne, as the radiance of the Father’s glory, He shines through His revelation to the interested sons of men. "For the death that He died," emphasized the apostle Paul, "He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God" (Romans 6:10). The enlightenment that would come through Christ, then, would not come merely through His teachings during the years of His earthly sojourn nor even in the written record of those teachings; the enlightenment comes through seeing the unseen Christ in glory. It is this life, reflecting from the very courts of glory, that John had in mind when he penned, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" (John 1:4,5).

Jesus is "the true light, which coming into the world, enlightens every man" (John 1:9). It is a sad commentary that the light shining through heaven’s gate should shine through the darkness and that darkness not comprehend it. But how joyful it is when the light shines on those who once sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, and have come to life through their obedience to the gospel of the glory of Christ.

 

 

That All Might Believe

"What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?" asked Jesus concerning John the son of Zacharias. "A reed shaken by the wind?" [I don’t think so!] The approving language of Jesus shows that the one He selected to be His forerunner was a man of strong character who would not cave in under pressure. This was very necessary in John’s case because, as the one chosen to go before the face of the Lord, he was going to be the point man in bringing the testimony of Jesus to a hostile world. "There came a man," recorded the apostle John, "sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the Light, that all might believe through Him" (John 1:6,7).

John came as a witness for the Light of the world. The world would believe in God through the One on whom the spotlight focused rather than through the one who focused the spotlight.

 

 

New Life For All Men

The Jew tended to think that the salvation of God was for his nation alone. When the apostle Paul, for example, suggested to his Jewish lynch mob that the Lord had actually said to him, "Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles," that contingent became quite violent. Later, upset at the Jews in Rome for their unwillingness to believe their own law and prophets, the same apostle emphasized, "Let it be known to you therefore that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen" (Acts 28:28). Because the reconciliation of all men was contemplated by the Omniscient from the beginning, the writers of the gospel accounts have plenty of "zingers" for any Jew who would read their records of Jesus the Son of God; the letters likewise contain broadsides for Jewish Christians who did not get the picture. Quoting Isaiah with regard to the Gentiles’ coming in, Paul noted what God had said, "I was found by those who sought Me not, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me." After marking the favorable acceptance of Jesus the Messiah among the Gentiles, the prophet also foresaw Israel’s rejection of Him, as quoted by the apostle Paul: "All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people" (Romans 10:20,21).

The apostle of love, John the aged, when he writes also uses language which makes it clear that the grace of God indeed had appeared to all men. John the Immerser, said the apostle, came for a witness of the Christ, that all might believe through Him. "There was the true light which, coming into the world," he added, "enlightens every man" (John 1:7,9). It is obvious that John, in his opening salvo, is taking his shots at any remnant of Jewish resistance to idea that the Messiah had come for all men.

In his first epistle, John would write, "See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God" (I John 3:1). By God’s immeasurable love and magnificent mercy, not only the Jews who received Him but also from all the ranks of the Gentiles - "even to those who believe in His name" - could experience new life in a new birth. Who is worthy or who is adequate for these things?

 

 

Born of God

The apostle John, opening his gospel account with a broad sweep, contemplates not only the greatness of God but also the blessings for men. "As many as received Him," says the apostle of the Jews who lived contemporaneously with Jesus’ sojourn, "He gave the right to become sons of God" (John 1:12) No one became a son of God during the days of Jesus in the flesh; no one could participate in the death of Jesus before Jesus died, and thus no one could arise to walk in newness of life as a son of God prior to Jesus’ execution. Hence John looks to the Christian era to work on one of his great themes, the promise of Jesus that sons of men could experience a spiritual birth and actually be born of God.

The creature that is now "born of God" is no longer a a mere fallen man. That which was stamped with the impress of Adam has been buried in the waters of immersion, and that which is now born of God is stamped with the impress of the risen Christ. From the time of Adam to Christ, no creature such as this was ever seen on earth. Jesus, the Son of God, was the first and foremost of the heavenly race to visit these material shores. By the design and power of the great God, His legacy lives on in those who bear His image and who now walk in His footsteps.

 

 

The Word Became Flesh

Few today would allow themselves to be called Gnostics. And most modern "Restorationists" would bristle if the appellation "Calvinist" were attached to their belief system. Both the Gnostic heresy of the first century AD and the Calvinist heresy of later centuries accepted the premise that the human body is inherently bad or depraved. The conclusions of this premise are that the body is always going to sin, and no one is going to overcome sin until after he dies and no longer has human flesh to contend with. Jesus, however, specifically came into the world as a man to destroy this premise. "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us …" were the up-front words of the apostle John. The same apostle, so clearly combating the anti-christ philosophy that the body of man is inherently bad, made this emphasis - in his first epistle - concerning the Word of life which he and the others’ hands handled: "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all" (I John 1:5). The Word, who was with God, and who was God, did not sin even when He took on human flesh!

The ancient Gnostics, in order to break the horns of their dilemma, said that Jesus - who clearly did not sin - therefore did not have a body. John, in the gracious style of the apostles when confronting destructive heresy, as peacemakers of the first order, stated: "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist" (II John 7). The Catholics, who effectively adopted Gnosticism under the heading "original sin," eventually had to contrive the doctrine of the "immaculate conception" - the doctrine that Mary was born without sin in contradistinction to all the rest of the human race, in order to give birth to a sinless Christ Child. The Calvinists transmogrified the doctrine to "total depravity," the doctrine that man, because of his flesh, is totally bad and cannot think or do anything good on his own. These Calvinists, then, had to set Jesus aside from the human race because no one could claim that Jesus was totally depraved.

But the concern here is primarily with what Dave Fagan of Laurel, IN, calls "neo-Calvinists" among the Restoration Movement. The neo-Calvinist wants to walk the same ground as the Gnostics, the Catholics, and the Calvinists without having that pointed out to anybody. The language he uses that is man is "depraved," that Jesus was different than the rest of us and had a special advantage over anyone else because He was God. The neo-Calvinist therefore arrives at the same conclusion as the Gnostic, the Catholic, and the Calvinist that the regenerated man is still going to continue in sin because of his flesh. Logic tells us that since the neo-Calvinist arrives at the same conclusion as the Gnostic, the Catholic, and the Calvinist, and uses the same logical process, he begins with the same premise.

To destroy that premise, the Word became flesh. "Therefore," the writer of Hebrews flatly states, "He had to be made like His brethren in all things" (Hebrews 2:17). Jesus never sinned; those who walk in His footsteps will get to where they never sin either. "And you know that He appeared to take away sins," John writes, "and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him" (I John 3:5,6).

Sin is not resident in the fleshly body of man. Rather, sin is resident in a heart that has chosen Satan as its father. "For from within," said Jesus, "out of the heart of man, proceed evil thoughts … All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23). If it were that the body as such that was bad, the law could have succeeded, for it imposed regulations on the body. But the law could not touch or transform the inner man. "For what the Law could not do," Paul concurs, "weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:3,4).

 

 

We Beheld His Glory

The Jesus who is, who was, and who is to come is the Jesus of glory. For a brief blip, even on man’s time scale, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Near the end of His pilgrimage, ad He approached the Kidron and the Garden of Gethsemane from the west, He prayed to the Father, "And now, glorify Me together with Yourself, Father, with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:5). The Word who was with God, and who was God, was the Word in glory. In conjunction with His ascension to the Father, He was glorified just as He had prayed for. "And we beheld His glory," says John of himself, the other apostles, and sundry New Testament prophets, "glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

"We beheld His glory," said John of the Christ, resurrected and on His throne, "glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). What John by vision and revelation in the Spirit, disciples now see by written revelation. "What we beheld … we proclaim to you also, that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1:1-3).

 

 

The Work of the Forerunner

"Behold," it is written in prophecy, "I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me" (Malachi 3:1). The Omniscient was very careful to state prophetically what He was going to do, so that when the events came to pass, no one could honestly claim that the testimony of Jesus is a myth. A great king has a forerunner to organize his engagements and to make preparation for his tour. It was fitting, then, for the Great King to have His forerunner. Furthermore, it was fitting for Him to have prophesied that He would have such a forerunner to prepare His way before Him. "And the Lord, whom you seek," continued the prophecy, "will suddenly come to His temple; and the Angel of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming." So said the Lord of hosts through Malachi.

Isaiah had earlier weighed in with his prophetic utterance. "A voice is calling," he recorded, "Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be laid low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken" (Isaiah 40:3-5). The forerunner was, in a manner of speaking, going to shave off the tops of the hills, fill in the ravines, and straighten out and broaden the cow paths so that the litter of the King could be run smoothly.

The apostle records the witness of the Immerser, for his witness was not limited to those of Jewish background. The voice in the wilderness was preparing all mankind to see the glory of Jesus in the heavenly realm and to recognize His coming was to the heavenly temple. "For My house," He said prophetically, " will be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Isaiah 56:7).

 

 

John’s Authority

It is a basic rule of management: authority has to be commensurate with responsibility. John the Immerser was "sent" by God to prepare the way for the Lord, a major responsibility with major authority. It is also axiomatic that the greater the mission and responsibility, the higher the level of character required for the mission. Great responsibility is not given to those who are untrustworthy, and it would be foolish to give great authority to a fool. And while men might be mistaken in their judgment in whom to trust, the Almighty will not. "Among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Immerser," was the Lord’s assessment. The character of John was his recommendation for his mission, his responsibility, and his authority.

The Jewish hierarchy is generally referred to as the "Jews" by the apostle John as contrasted to the common people, generally referred to as "the multitudes." The hierarchy, specifically the Pharisees, sent priests and Levites to the Immerser with some questions, and these questions had to do with John’s authority. "Why then," these priests and Levites asked, "are you immersing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" (John 1:25).

The statement, "this the Son of God" was understood by the Jews as equivalent to saying, "this is God." The witness of the Immerser was backed by the authority given to him, evidenced by the Old Testament prophecies. The voice of one crying in the wilderness began making straight the way of the Lord by pointing out who He was.

 

 

John’s Immersion

John was called "The Immerser" because of his introduction of a practice previously unknown among Jews. That this was a new practice is evident in the challenge to John’s immersing by the Pharisees. "Why then," they queried, "are you immersing if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" And that this practice originated from God is evident in John’s testimony, as a prophet, in his words, "He who sent me to immerse said to me …" The immersion of John, also called the immersion of repentance, served a number of purposes in the great plan of God.

The measured tread of God moves on through the matrix of man’s history. John’s immersion came at the right time to set the stage for Christianity. The tax gatherers and harlots welcomed the immersion of John; the scribes and Pharisees were left standing in place and guilty as the footsteps of God marched on.

 

 

The Lamb of God

The omniscient God, comprehending the dullness of hearing and slowness of understanding resident in mankind, spent considerable effort in Israel to establish that lambs were an important sacrifice. "Now this is what you shall offer on the altar," said the Lord through Moses, "two one year old lambs each day, continuously. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight …" (Exodus 29:38,39). Each lamb, as a burnt offering, when offered in conjunction with the appropriate grain offering and drink offering, constituted the morning oblation and evening oblation, respectively. When Elijah called down fire at Carmel, he did it in connection with the evening sacrifice being offered in Jerusalem, impressing on the minds of those drifting people the importance of the lamb being offered in behalf of Israel. This "soothing aroma’ was to "be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the doorway of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you," stated the Lord to Israel, "to speak with you there … And they shall know that I am the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God" (Exodus 29:41-46). The lamb for the continual burnt offering was a reminder that God dwelt in Israel.

Not only did God desire male lambs for the continual burnt offering, but He also requested a male lamb without blemish for the Passover. "Your lamb," said the Almighty, "shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or the goats" (Exodus 12:5). The Passover lamb - male, unblemished, without broken bones, and with blood shed - was a reminder that God saved Israel with a mighty outstretched arm out of the land of Egypt.

What a great God is the Almighty! The Passover lamb foreshadowed the deliverance of God’s people from slavery to sin, and the lambs for the morning and evening oblation prefigured God’s continuing presence among spiritual Israel. Who of the redeemed among the Gentiles could fail to fall on his knees in gratitude to Him who is the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world?

 

 

Jesus’ First Disciples

The three and one-half years of Jesus’ ministry on earth was the most intense of any three and one-half years of any lifetime. He had to generate the momentum that would produce the church; He had to fulfill all relevant Old Testament prophecies; He had to deal with all the interruptions connected with people’s personal needs; and, in the midst of all this, still keep His appointment with Calvary. One of the key factors in what Jesus was to accomplish was the generation of core disciples who could be selected as apostles for the establishment of the church. And herein John the Forerunner had opportunity to be of great service to the Lord.

Big things have little beginnings. Two disciples of John spent a day with Jesus, and the flywheel of momentum for Jesus’ work began its slow first turn.

 

 

Friends Tell Friends

The apostles are often viewed as case-hardened veterans of spiritual conflict. But they were not always so. In the process of becoming acquainted with the kingdom of God and the person of Jesus, they were fresh, curious, and eager. So when the Immerser pointed out "the Lamb of God" to John and Andrew, they were excited to be able to spend some time with Him and "weary" Him with their questions. They were not disappointed in Him; their zeal was fired and the flame never went out.

The work of John the Immerser was bearing fruit. Curious and eager men were turned over to Jesus as first contacts, and these in turn spread the word to their friends. But they had to have something of substance to be excited about. "We have found the Messiah," said Andrew to Peter. "We have found Him of whom Moses … and the Prophets wrote," were the words of Philip to Nathanael. In this way Jesus made initial contact with five of His original twelve apostles. Friends tell friends!

 

 

Scriptural Foundations

When the timing was right, Jesus came into the world. "But when the fulness of time came," observed the apostle Paul, "God sent forth His Son" (Galatians 4:4). The Father worked with mankind as a whole and with Israel specifically to set the stage for the entrance of Jesus into man’s history. Israel first had to be brought into existence as a cohesive nation, which was accomplished through Moses and Joshua. When the nation eventually split into two, the Lord ensured that the northern, split-off nation was carried off into oblivion so that the Jews in the southern nation would remain a cohesive people, and that Jerusalem would continue to be the center of their worship and world. When Judah also went into captivity and the Jews were dispersed through the ancient world, God had by then driven into their lifestyle a strict regard for the Law and their customs. Wherever the Jews went, they took the synagogue and the scrolls with them, and every Sabbath they assembled for "the reading of the Law and the Prophets" (Acts 13:15). Even Timothy, whose father was a Gentile, was reared by his Jewish mom with respect for and knowledge of the scripture, so that Paul reminded him "that from childhood you have known the sacred writings" (II Timothy 2:15). The Jews as a whole were literate in the Old Testament and this made it possible for some common Jewish guys to become apostles of Jesus Christ, newly come into the world.

Men like Nathanael, guileless and interested in truth, were prepared by the establishment of scripture in their lives. "Then what advantage has the Jew?" asked the apostle Paul at a later time. "Great in every respect," was his answer. "First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God" (Romans 3:1,2). Those foundations are important!

 

 

Greater Things Than These

One of the expressions often used in scripture to describe mankind is "dull of hearing." The words of God are being spoken, but the meaning is just not sinking in. Carnal man basically has a hard time putting the proper value on spiritual things, and, because he can’t gauge what is important and what is not, he generally misses the significance of major spiritual truths. But those who are interested in God’s spiritual realm are open to the manifold wisdom of God, and the Father is able to guide these by His written, step-by-step educational program. These are the ones who are not "dull of hearing," who indeed have ears to hear.

One such individual was one of the first disciples of Jesus, Nathanael, whom Jesus described as an Israelite without guile. When the Lord indicated that He had seen him earlier hidden under a nearby fig tree, Nathanael was able to draw the conclusion that Jesus was indeed the "Son of God" and "the King of Israel." "Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.’ And He said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’ " (John 1:30,31).

Nathanael was not "dull of hearing." Open to the Lord, he in turn would have his eyes opened. The panoply of heaven would be spread out before him, and he and the other apostles would be able to give witness of Jesus, exalted above the heavens. Furthermore, anyone without guile can follow in Nathanael’s footsteps, climbing Jacob’s ladder, and, through the written revelation of God, "see" the greater things Nathanael saw.